Where Was He?

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Mark Hudson, a middle aged man with salt and pepper hair, always kept neat, and a smoothly shaved face is an accountant living in Chicago, Illinois. Every day he has the same routine: coffee shop, work, bar, and then home. Mark lives alone in a 3 bedroom/2 bath, beautiful two story home with a large back yard and an in-ground pool. Mark is a lone wolf that does not have many friends; that being said, he does not have many enemies either.


One morning Mark oversleeps, which is peculiar because he is always on time and keeps to his schedule very well. As he rushes to shower and shave and get into his black suit with bright red tie, he grabs his keys and fancy, 10-year-old briefcase. Mark is headed for the coffee shop down the street. When he arrives he orders the usual, a tall Caffé Americano in a to go cup. When Mark reaches for his wallet he realizes that it is not there.


He looks to the checkout lady staring at him with his coffee and says, “I am so sorry. I was running late this morning and must have forgotten my wallet”.


The lady politely smiles and says, “That is no problem. I can put it aside for you to come back later if you would like, sir?”


Before Mark can answer he is greeted by a man with dark brown hair wearing  khaki shorts, sandals, and a bright orange shirt with the words Ask Me About My Father written in purple.


The man looks to the lady holding Mark’s drink and says, “Don’t worry. It’s on me this morning.”


Mark, confused yet thankful, looks to the man and says, “Why did you do that? You didn’t have to.”


The man politely smiles and states, “The Lord told me that maybe you needed some help this morning.”


Mark, a little annoyed, forces a smile and thanks the man before continuing his path to work. When Mark leaves, the man turns to the lady that gave him his coffee and says, “I hope I did not offend him.”


The lady, with a sympathetic look, answers, “He has been through a lot over the past year. Don’t take it personally.”


When Mark arrives to work, he immediately walks into his office and closes the doors as well as the blinds. He sits at his desk and stares down at a picture of a beautiful woman. She has blonde hair and is wearing a pink, fuzzy sweater. She is leaning on a large, old oak tree in what looks to be the dead of fall. She has a lovely white smile with enchanting, ocean blue eyes. Mark gets lost in the picture but is interrupted by his door opening.


He quickly looks up to see his assistant, James. “Mr. Hudson, your meeting is in five minutes.”


Mark, suddenly remembering, answers,“Yes, thank you. I will be there shortly.” As James closes the door, Mark stands up to head to the meeting. He takes one last look at the picture and then leaves.


On Mark’s way home he sees a billboard that is bright orange and has the words Ask Someone About Their Father written in purple. When he sees this, he remembers the guy from this morning that has paid for his coffee. He just ignores it and heads for the bar, like every other night. He enters his favorite bar, The Grafton. He orders his usual, an old-fashioned whiskey.


He usually drinks about four to five, but tonight he looks to the bartender, John, and says, “Just leave the bottle and add it to my tab, John.” John gives a sympathetic look that Mark knows all too well, leaves the bottle, and turns his attention to another man seated at the bar.


The next morning, Mark wakes up with a large headache, of course. He is unaware of how he has gotten home but figures that John dropped him off like he usually does when he has had a bad night. He swallows some ibuprofen and starts his daily routine. As Mark enters the coffee shop, he sees the same guy that bought his coffee yesterday. He is wearing the same attire as before, only the shirt is blue with black words. Mark makes eye contact with the man. When he sees Mark, he smiles. He starts walking over to Mark with his hand out for a handshake.


As they shake hands, the kind man says in a sympathetic yet excited voice, “My name is Matthew and ever since yesterday I could just not get you out my head. And yes, I am aware of how crazy this all sounds, but hey that’s just how the world is. It’s all crazy, and we are just all crazy people.”


Matthew hands Mark a card with his name and telephone number on it. “This is my card. I attend Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church just North of here. I would love to see you there Sunday. It starts at-”
Before Matthew can finish, Mark interrupts and says, in a frustrated tone, “No! You will not see me in another church every again. Especially that one!”


Mark is now in a breathless state and looks around to see everyone in the coffee shop staring at him with the same sympathetic look that he always seems to get. He runs out of the coffee shop and heads to work. Mark storms into his office and closes the doors and blinds again. He is panting and cannot seem to find his breath. He looks at the picture of the woman on his desk and picks it up. He starts to whimper as he stares down at the picture of someone that he would give anything to have back. Mark grinds his teeth together and throws the picture to the wall. He storms out of his office, swinging his door open and avoiding the broken glass.
When Mark gets home he goes to the back of his closet and pulls out a small, wooden box with a cross engraved on the top. When he opens it, a folded piece of paper with Mark’s name on it falls onto the floor.
He unfolds the paper and it reads, “My dearest Mark, I know things will be hard at times and you might hate everyone that tries to help you, but I promise that things will get better. Things will get easier. One day, you will wake up and not feel sad anymore. You will wake up and not miss me everyday. I ask that you don’t push people away. They only want to help and love you. Do not push your family away or your friends. You need them most right now. More importantly, I ask that you do not push God away. I know this is all sudden and scary, and you might hate God right now, but it is all part of this plan that we do not understand right now. Some day you will understand. I promise, dear. Go to church, pray, and seek God’s plan for you. I will see you again one day. 


     Your dearest wife, Bethany”
Mark, with tears streaming down his face, reaches into his pocket and pulls out the card Matthew had given to him. He turns the card over and it reads, “ Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Isaiah 41:10” 


Mark turns the card back over and reaches for his telephone to call Matthew. Mark tries to hide the fact that he had been crying but Matthew can tell. “What time did you say it started?” Mark asks, as he wipes a tear that has fallen to his chin. Matthew knows who it is before Mark can even say.


“Would you like to meet for lunch today?” asks Matthew. He knows that Mark probably needs someone today.
Mark agrees to lunch. He calls in at work and explains to them that today he just needs some time, and of course, his work understands. The company has done nothing but support Mark the past three years as he grieves his loss. When noon rolls around, Mark gets ready to meet Matthew for lunch. They meet at a The Grand Lux just down the street from Mark’s office. As they talk more and even laugh a little here and there, Matthew can still tell that Mark has a lot on his mind.


Matthew leans his arms on the table and looks at Mark, “Why don’t you tell me what is bothering you so much, Brother?”


Mark looks up and takes a deep breathe.  “I have not really talked about her since she was taken away from me.” Matthew looks a little confused at Mark. My wife. Three years ago everything was perfect and believe it or not, I was actually happy. I was the type of guy that didn’t drink. The type that didn’t forget his wallet because he had a beautiful wife to hand it to him and kiss him goodbye as he left for work. Now, I don’t have that. I don’t have that beautiful girl to hold at night and to watch the newest episode of Chopped with. Now, I do the same thing every day and I feel nothing. I feel like an empty soul walking passed all of these happy people with their perfect lives. At night is when it gets really bad. I just lay there. I look to my right where she use to lie and she isn’t there anymore. You know why? Because he took her from me.”


“He? As in God?” asked Matthew.


“Yes, God” replied Mark. “He gave her the cancer and one month later, she was gone. I used to believe in God, but how do you believe in someone that takes the only person that has ever understood you away? I used to be at church every single time the doors were open. I had so much faith in God and that he was blessing mine and Bethany’s life together. Then, one day, the phone rang and just like that, she was no longer one call away or waiting for me at home with a homecooked meal. We had so many plans together. We were going to have kids, maybe get a dog. Now it is no longer a plan, just a dream of a life I wish I had.”


Matthew, with tears in his eyes, says, “I am so sorry, Mark. I had no idea.”


Mark looks to Matthew and sighs, “Yeah, most people have no idea what anyone is going through these days. That's just how the world seems to work now.” The men sit in silence for a few seconds and ponder over the words Mark has just spoken.


Matthew breaks the silence, “You know, I have a feeling that you're going to be okay, friend.”


A little relieved yet still confused Mark asks, “How do you know that?”


“I just do.” states Matthew.


After the men finish lunch they take a walk down the busy streets of Chicago. Matthew turns to Mark, “You know, life may be hard and we might lose people we care about but eventually, when the tears dry, the pain we begin to slow and we will find happiness again.”


Mark grins a little, “I am just tired of being alone all of the time.” When they reach Mark’s house, they say goodbye.


The next morning, a Sunday, Mark wakes to the ringing of his door bell. He looks over to see that it is nine o'clock in the morning. When he opens the door, he sees Matthew standing in his doorway in a nice, cream colored suit with a blue tie. His hair is combed perfectly, and it looks almost as if he is about to get married.
“Why are you not dressed yet?” asks Matthew.


Mark has a confused look on his face but in the back of his mind, he knows exactly why Matthew is standing in front of him, waiting on him to get dressed. Mark turns around and goes to take a quick shower. While he goes to shower, Matthew patiently waits for him in the living room. As he walks around all he can think about is how perfect this house is for a family. He sees all of the pictures hanging from the wall and he notices a picture of a blonde woman, could not be older than 30. She has a shirt on that says Ask Me About My Father. Matthew gasps and continues to stare at the picture of Bethany.


Mark walks out in a nice, freshly dry cleaned, black suit with a orange tie. “Orange was her favorite color.” state's Mark.


Matthew just smiles and says to him, “This is your wife? I remembering hearing about her just before I moved here. I heard how she just suddenly got cancer and it took her too fast for anymore to see it coming, not even the doctors.”


“Yes, it all happened so fast. Sometimes I think maybe it didn’t happen at all, at least I wish it didn’t.” says Mark in a sympathetic tone.


Matthew, pointing to the picture “She has the same shirt as I did the first day we met.”
“Yes, I do too. They gave the shirts to everyone at our church to wear. I knew the meaning and everything. It was Bethany’s idea. She thought it was a great way to witness to others and have them ask us questions. She was so thoughtful.” 


As Matthew and Mark are on their way to church, Matthew notices that Mark is sweating really bad and looks a little pale. He leans to Mark, “Are you nervous?”


Mark starts to stutter with his words, “Uh...ye- yeah, that’s what it is.” Mark is nervous but knows that’s not the reason he is sweating so much and feels this sick.

 

“You don't look so great, Mark.” Matthew says with a concerned voice.


“Well, it’s been a couple of days since I have had a drink.” says Mark with a shameful look upon his face.
Matthew is well aware of what Mark is saying to him. When Mark was younger, he had an uncle that was an alcoholic and he was affected by it in many ways.


As they pull into the church parking lot, Mark’s stomach fills with butterflies. It has been more than three years since he has even thought about God, let alone stepped foot into a church. Matthew can tell, despite the withdrawal symptoms, that Mark is having a difficult time with all of this.


“If you don’t feel comfortable with this, I can drive you back home if you would like.” suggests Matthew.
“This is what she wants for me. This is where I need to be, I can feel it.” states Mark. As soon as the service starts Mark is feeling God work in his life. Every single thing the preacher is saying is applying to his life.
When the service is over, the preacher calls for an invitation. As soon as the invitation starts, Mark is already praying at the altar. He prays that God forgives him for resisting God and his plan for his life. He finishes praying and goes back to his seat next to Matthew. Matthew has tears in his eyes and gives Mark a pat on the back as a way of saying “I'm proud for you.”


After church is over, everyone comes to Mark and shakes his hand. Some even hug him. He remembers just how friendly everyone at church used to be.


When Mark and Matthew get to the car, Mark turns to Matthew, with tears blurring his vision he says, “Matthew, I need help. I need so much help.”


Matthew smiles, “I knew you were going to be okay. God has a way of putting people right where they need to be.”


Mark smiles. He knows exactly what Matthew is talking about.


Three months pass and Mark is okay, just like Matthew said he would be. He is in a tall, brick building where he meets Monday through Friday at four o'clock in the afternoon. There are chairs lined up, facing a wooden podium. There are encouraging posters hung all over the wall.


Mark arrives right at 4:00. A man named Joseph walks onto the stage where the podium stands, “Welcome again everyone. Today we have another brave member to come up and tell their story. Please listen closely and be considerate of him. Please welcome, Mark Hudson.”


As everyone claps, Mark makes his way onto the stage. He looks to the crowd and smiles. You can tell Mark is different by the way he carries himself. He is more confident and puts off a different vibe, one more positive.
“My name is Mark and I am a recovering alcoholic. I won’t bore you with my sappy story. But I will tell you this. I used to hate to God because he took someone away from me. Someone that meant literally everything to me. Then, I felt like he left, too. Every day I walked down the same halls, the same streets and felt the same exact way, alone. At times I wondered why God left me, why he would take her from me and then just leave. I used alcohol to fill the empty void I felt every day, much like you all do now. But, you see, the thing is, we spend so much of our time wondering where God is when he’s been there the whole time and it was us that didn’t seek him. I promise you, no matter what you're going through, you will never be going through it alone.”
Mark smiles the biggest smile and steps down. He has finally found that peace and happiness he had once felt with Bethany. He has learned to live without her but still keep the joy she had once made him have.






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